BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - An injury to No. 10 put the hurt on Southern California's national championship hopes this season.
So did an injury to No. 10.
Confused? There's a simple explanation: USC has two outstanding players who wear the same number - quarterback John David Booty and linebacker Brian Cushing.
Both players starred in last year's Rose Bowl, and both figure to have similar opportunities Tuesday in this year's game against No. 13 Illinois.
``It felt like a bunch of hard work coming together,'' Cushing said regarding USC's 32-18 victory over Michigan a year ago in Pasadena. ``My best game came out of it. It felt good to have the season end on that note.''
Cushing, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior from Park Ridge, N.J., had seven tackles including 2 1/2 sacks and forced a fumble to help him earn the Rose Bowl defensive MVP award. Booty passed for 391 yards and four second-half touchdowns against the Wolverines.
Booty's injury this season has been well-documented - he broke the middle finger on his throwing hand Oct. 6 in the second quarter of what turned out to be a shocking 24-23 loss to 41-point underdog Stanford.
Booty threw four interceptions after being injured, and sat out three more games including a 24-17 loss at Oregon. Those losses kept No. 6 USC (10-2) from the national championship game.
Cushing sprained his left ankle in the season-opener against Idaho. He played briefly in the next two games before sitting out the following three, including the Stanford game.
``I got rolled on from behind, the ankle twisted the wrong way,'' Cushing recalled Sunday at Rose Bowl media day. ``It was a serious injury, it was hurting. Just the fact that it's still sore, you know it was serious.
``I might have tried to come back too soon. We had a good team, I wanted to be a part of it. I didn't want to miss out. I'm as close to 100 percent as I'm going to be, I feel the best I've felt since the opening game.''
The Trojans are loaded at linebacker with the likes of Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Thomas Williams, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava.
But they missed Cushing when he was sidelined.
``We've been at our best since he came back,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said. ``He's a tremendous, tenacious football player.''
Cushing acknowledged that entering this season, he was considering bypassing his senior year to make himself available for the NFL draft.
Now, no way.
``Overall, I feel like I haven't proven enough yet,'' he said. ``I still have some things I want to accomplish by staying here - to be a senior, continue the tradition, help this team win this last game and all the games possible next year.
``The seniors are very good, but there are a lot of patient underclassmen waiting to step up. It's going to be fun to watch. To be here for another year now is a blessing.''
Cushing said despite the disappointment of coming close but missing out on the national championship game for a second straight year, playing in the Rose Bowl remains a thrill.
``It's another game to play together, it's the last game for this team,'' he said. ``It's special, I feel very fortunate.''
Cushing has made quite an impression on his teammates.
``He's all attitude,'' cornerback Terrell Thomas said with a smile. ``He's one of those tough guys. He makes sure nobody hits harder than he does. He's real prideful about that. He was a great athlete in high school - he played safety, he played receiver. He thinks he can do it all.''
And Cushing is proud to be a Jersey guy in SoCal. ``He never lets you forget that,'' Thomas said.
Maualuga praised Cushing's toughness and leadership qualities.
``When he's out, we don't have that vocal leader,'' Maualuga said. ``He's a guy that goes to practice and gives everything he has. He makes practice more exciting, he loves to compete. He gives it a little extra juice.
``Something about those Jersey guys, they've got a different mentality about them. He likes to compete, have fun at the same time.''

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